Cover image for The mitt man : a novel
The mitt man : a novel
Taylor, Mel, 1939-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W. Morrow, [1999]

Physical Description:
372 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Expertly evoking black life in the south in the late 1920s, The Mitt Man, set in the world of gospel choirs and chain gangs, explores the dodgy realm where grifters get religion, reverends get rich, and a perfect scam might just pay off in salvation.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This fascinating novel, peopled with memorable characters, set primarily in New Orleans and New York from the 1920s through the 1940s, is situated at the crossroads between religion and the con game. The aging King Fish, a gambler and thief turned preacher, and Jimmie Lamar, a younger more urbane version of the other, cross paths in a prison camp in Louisiana. Their fateful meeting eventually leads to the redemption of the younger man. King Fish and Jimmie are both ambitious, restless, morally ambivalent black men, galled by the restraints of racism--the blatant strictures of the South and the more subtle ones of the North. Both find opportunity to flex their ample capabilities in the con game and religion, converting themselves to the Reverend Cook and Father Lamar, respectively. Despite their intelligence, they also share a common lack of insight and appreciation of the women in their lives, offering love but constitutionally unable to provide stability. Taylor's novel is beautifully written, evocative of the infamous charismatics Elmer Gantry and Father Divine, who preyed on fears and hard times to garner huge personal fortunes. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

A tale of two holy-rolling, rough-living African-American hustlers, this strong debut novel about people in our social underbelly first casts a dark gaze on the racism and amorality of New Orleans in the 1920s. Book One of Taylor's two-part work chronicles the rise and fall of King Fish, a small-fry pickpocket and scoundrel. After botching an opportunity to relieve fire and brimstone preacher Rev. Malcolm Cage of his money, King Fish is convinced by Cage to become a preacher himself. King Fish marries and settles down, thanking Providence for his new life, but his wrath boils over when a white man molests his wife; he kills the redneck and is sentenced to the state penitentiary. Book Two picks up in 1944, when Harlem-trained bad boy Jimmie Lamar heads South for Mardi Gras after a spat with his slick and bossy hustler girlfriend, Masaya; arrogantly pulling off a card-shark trick, he runs afoul of the racist police. He is railroaded into prison, where he meets the aging King Fish, who takes Jimmie as his protégé, convincing him to become a preacher upon his release. Lamar, despite his new piety, still has a few get-rich-quick schemes up his sleeve, but his reunion with Masaya, who is dying, proves his salvation. Though the tone here is one of detached resignation, it is occasionally broken by moments of bitterly wrought, affecting emotion. Taylor's knowledge of the hustler's art adds a gritty authenticity, and he shows a fine understanding of the society that produces such desperate men, and chances for redemption that occasionally occur. Agent: Pam Bernstein. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A mitt man is a con artist who uses religion to bilk people, and King Fish is one of the best in New Orleans during the 1930s. But King Fish's luck runs out when he kills a white man and is sentenced to life in prison. There he meets Jimmie Lamar, a Harlem hustler wrongly imprisoned for theft and full of anger at the white world. Jimmie, chosen to carry on the mitt man's game, soon finds that faith and love stand in the way of a good con. Taylor's first novel is filled with well-developed and compelling characters and settings, but a meandering plot and constantly changing points of view make the story difficult to follow. The author also tends to bury his characters in wordy psychological background. Recommended for large fiction collections.‘Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.